“Culture Jamming” sounds innocuous, like a jazz blues session, where everyone chills out and each gives a bit of their culture to express to the world this is who we are and what we are about, but in its early forms it was highly activist and often guerilla forms of communication, where radio frequencies, road signs, television genres and advertisments, were appropriated and subverted to actively resist what the instigators labelled propoganda.
“Culture Jamming” is far more like the early Blues artists who challenged the hegemony of American music, and developed their often dissenting musical voice, from the roots of slavery and rhythmns from their home country.
Although it may sometimes be done in a graffitti form it is always a grafitti with purpose, intelligence, and the same strategms of guerilla war fare, although in many cases it coud be seen as a guerilla “peace” movement.
It is communication that has a social conscience. It is about making art, the airwaves and newspapers “Truly democratic” “ethical”, and accessible to the wider community and to the grassroots of the community.
Simply put the cultural jammer cannot limit themselves to subway walls if they want to be heard.
Karl Lasn, the founder of ad busters and the Power Shift ad agency, popularised the term “Culture Jam” in his book of the same name.
He summed up the motivation for cultural jammers this way:
are we the people going to continue to sing the songs and tell the stories—generate our culture from the bottom-up? Or will culture somehow be stolen from us, and spoon-fed to us top-down by advertising agencies, TV stations, corporations and so on? It was out of those sessions we decided to launch this culture jamming movement to reclaim and take back our culture from those corporations who have hijacked and taken our culture away from us.
Lasn was not the first to use the term “culture jam”. It was the Situationist International (an international political and artistic movement, originated in the Italian village of Cosio d’Arroscia on 28 July 1957 ), that used the term radio jamming and began to apply it to the idea of culture jamming back in 1968.
Examples of Culture Jamming
“Culture jamming” can be something like a graffittied street sign, for instance ‘Form one lane’ becomes, with some additional graffitied letters of P and T, Form one Planet. Other forms are ad busting, performance art, mockumentary and cyberjamming- blogging.
Ad busting, is similar to what cultural theorists call deconstructionism but it takes it one step further and the ad buster creates a message from the original ad that turns it on its head. To bust an ad, that is to to culture jam it, takes three steps
1- Find an ad, especially one that might promote something you find objectionable (like ultra skinny models promoting skinny women as the most beautiful)
2- Identify the message that hooks the consumer, what is the ad really using to sell the product, ie does it equate cars, chocolate etc with “sex appeal”
3- Now subvert that message, turn it on its head . . .
Problem is of course is that now many ads bust themselves, and one chocolate company used an attractive, but slightly overweight comedienne to advertise their product and portrayed her taking of chocolate as being comfortable itself.
However many television companies now allow “community advertising” where campaigns that are not about selling products get airplay…. Recycling campaigns, and Clean Up Australia, RSPCA etc….
Performance Art and Mockumentary
A classic culture jam in performance art is when look-alikes, take on the persona of of a famous future, say Tony Blair, and film people’s reactions. Comedians in Australia make extensive use of this form of parody art. For example the GlassHouse subvert Newpaper headlines, while Brian Doyle and John Clarke’s, regular spot on the end of the 7.30 report highjacks the political interview genre and ridicules the evasiveness of politicians amongst other things.
Another form of “culture jamming” can be seen in the mockumentary form. The most recent example of this on television is the brilliant We Can Be Heroes which, traces the progress of nominees for the Australian of the Year, whilst making extensive social commentary on the attitudes of privileged private school girls, the Asian high achieving student, the Mum with a heart and a disability, the blighter farm boy who will have one heroic act all his life and milk it for all its worth, and the accidental hero who can’t get over his brief fling with flame.
In the cyber forms of culture jamming websites might be highjacked in order to challenge their political and ideological message, or they might be mimicked to challenge racism, or other such conditions.
“Web logging” is another way in which people can “culture jam”. They can say whatever they like and then promote their blog. Blogging is much simpler than constructing a website. There are free and paid weblogs, and most have a set of rules for people using the space. There is freedom of speech, but many blogs cater to particular communities, and so the social justice element comes in when some for instance don’t tolerate racism, sexism, or the abuse of human rights but actively promote peace, environmentalism, feminism, equality of men and women.
A more legal form of internet activism was the recent concert by Bob Geldoff G8 Live 8 which might be seen as a culture jam event. Everyone could register their vote for the G8 to consult well thinking of “the people.” Music was used to encourage people to log on and vote, to participate. However most artists were “mass media promoted” not independent labels, and not with highly socio- political songs, although some did have some political content. The effectiveness of this form of internet activism is being questioned.
When you culture jam
you take the mickey out of mouse
give him a new house
and deconstruct the consumerism
that makes capitalism go round
When you culture jam
you wonder about
the airbrushed hype and
realise its okay to be a size 16
When you culture jam
you take the zen into the job search merry go round
you don’t con- form one lane
we can form one planet
(Excerpt from Poem by Pearlz after researching the article)
Now the talk for the cultural jammer of today is turning to how do we make ethical businesses, and create shoes from recycled materials so that the money goes to help more than big multinationals. Jam on I say . . .
Wikipedia entries on culture jamming and related terms. Culture Jamming
“Ad Busting and Culture Jamming” The Satya Interview with Kalle Lasnhttp://www.satyamag.com/may05/lasn.html
“Worksheet on Adbusting” http://urbandreams.ousd.k12.ca.us/lessonplans/consumerism/worksheet11.pdf